One aspect of foreign travel that is a love/hate with North American travelers is food. Cyclists are probably the most obsessive eaters among athletes, and often times will forego a gastronomique meal for the standard, yet nutritionally empty, pasta with whatever sauce. Velo Classic Tours owner Peter Easton makes a point to offer some tastey alternatives to the cyclists’ standbys for his guests.
The European dining experience: completely different.
A European Institution
“Dinner in Europe is much more a social event than it is in the States. There is one sitting at a restaurant- the table is yours for the evening. Restaurants do not move you through your meal and they won’t bring your bill unless you ask.” Says Easton, who spends his downtime between trips in Belgium. “This is all tied to their lifestyle – a meal is the culmination of the day, and for many it’s a day long effort – I’ve been a guest of families who’ve taken me shopping to the local markets – the bakery; the butcher; the fish market; the vegetable and fruit stand and the patissiere. The dinners are a social gathering and are to be savored and experienced with all your senses.”
The town of Durbuy: even better than this picture.
“We spend a great deal of time selecting the restaurants on all of our trips- it’s as rewarding as riding and scouting the routes. We meet with the chefs and the sommeliers to work out the ideal menu, and we have dined with quite a list of chefs that are well known throughout Europe”. A few that are Google worthy – Juan Oscariz; Firmin Arrambide; Gilles Bertaud; Boris Campanella.
And how does he handle the more attentive eaters? “I’m not a nutritionist, but take a look at average Europeans vs. average Americans. There is obviously something beneficial to the European lifestyle – a balanced meal; stress free environment and a good glass of wine. It takes a bit of coaxing, but it’s important to remember this is your vacation – take the opportunity to treat yourself to a new experience… you can eat all the pasta and rice you want when you get back home!”
Le Sanglier des Ardennes – just one of Velo Classic’s choice hotels.
One hotel/restaurant that typifies the authenticity Velo Classic Tours achieves is Les Sanglier des Ardennes, in the Belgian village of Durbuy. Sanglier is French for boar, and are hunted with great passion throughout the Ardennes. Proud to be known as the smallest “city” in the world- as dubbed by Jean de Boheme in 1331- Durbuy is the longtime home of the Caerdinael family.
Maurice Caerdinael – refined cuisine and over 15,000 bottles in the cellar!
Maurice Caerdinael and his wife Nicole took over the hotel in 1962. Maurice has devoted years to developing refined cuisine, painstakingly developed a wine cellar of over fifteen thousand bottles and has welcomed such greats as King Bedoiun. His son Frederic, 42, currently oversees the kitchen. After a training tour that included stints in Paris, Nice and London, he returned to Durbuy to take his place along side his parents. The family owns three other hotels in town, with the main rooms at the Sanglier the primary gathering spaces for dining and socialzing among guests.
There’s never a worry of over-eating – you’ll need the calories to power over the fabled Ardennes climbs like the Mur de Huy.
From the Bike to the Dining Room
A 77 mile ride over the course of La Fleche Wallonne is a highlight of the Spring Classics itinerary Velo Classic Tours offers to the Ardennes. It’s a roller coaster loop over the steep hills that rise from the Meuse river valley, culminating with the Mur de Huy. Last year’s trip included riding with the Caisse d’Epargne team and winner Alejandro Valverde, while a few others took a more relaxed ride with women’s Elk Haus professional Karin Ruso. Returning to the hotel, the aromas wafting from the kitchen offered a teaser of what was to come. A relaxing afternoon in town or on the porch of the hotel enjoying a coffee or Durbuyse ale sets the tone for a memorable dinner.
What European riding experience would be complete without the post-ride cafй / beer stop?
Gathering in the living room of the 4-star hotel-resembling a hunting lodge with the obligatory Boar’s head hung over the strikingly large fireplace- diners are greeted by Phillipe, the maitre’d, with an apertif. Speaking English with a thick accent, Phillipe recites the evening’s menu. A favorite for VCT in the past: an entree of carpaccio of wild boar ham, with spring vegetables and olive oil. Le Plat Poisson- grilled trout, topped with a curry salad with pine nuts and tempura vegetables. Le Plat Viande, which had one guest claim “it was the best beef I’ve ever had”, was Maurice Cardinael’s signature filet of beef, cooked to absolute perfection, and decorated with truffles, and a pomme de terre puree. For dessert, a chocolate cake made from an original family recipe, topped with pistachio ice cream.
The sitting room at the Sanglier – not a bad place to relax before dinner.
Selecting from a wine list as extensive as the Sanglier’s can be a daunting task, but Easton has met with Olivier, the sommelier and made a winning selection- a 2000 Michel Chapoutier Les Sizerannes, a hearty French red from the Northern Rhone, a delicate Syrah tame enough to not overwhelm the fish, rich enough to support the beef, all while overlooking the river Ourthe.
In spite of all the great eating, you won’t forget the real reason you’re here – seeing the Classics up close.
Many wonder why a meal takes so long to get through in Europe. The spacing of the courses, the time put into prepartion and presentation, and the pace with which the meal is consumed, is all part of the dining experience that allows one to relax and eat and drink and savor the tastes. The precision that every course is prepared and presented with is consumed with the attention it deserves, an abundance of smells and tastes that carry one far away from any thoughts of standard pasta!
The perfect end to a perfect day.
Coffee and petit fours-French for ‘little ovens’- are both served in the living room. For the cigar aficionado or after dinner drink connoisseur, the indulgence continues as Philippe offers a variety of selections. While Americans may enjoy television after a quick meal, dinners in other cultures are meant to be savored and enjoyed for the artistic creations they are – seasonal menus created around the freshest ingredients; sauces that are meticulously prepared and stew all day; all presented with the intention of fulfilling the primary aim of experiencing an ancient ritual so overlooked in fast paced society-the sensory pleasures of eating and drinking.
Those smiles are real: Peter & Lisa Easton really do love showing off the ‘true’ Europe.
For more information on this and other great tours to the best races in Europe, log on to www.VeloClassic.com or call 212.779.9599 for a 2007 color brochure and itineraries.